You may come into the new thriller “Run” a fan of Sarah Paulson or of filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, who previously frayed nerves with his film “Searching.” But you will undoubtedly leave a fan of Kiera Allen, the remarkable actor at the center of the movie who makes her film debut.
The first major thriller to star a wheelchair user in 70 years, “Run” isn’t just notable for its authentic casting, but for what Allen calls “its authentic characters.” She admits to being relieved to see a well-crafted, suspenseful script by Chagantry and Sev Ohanian that “doesn’t just have a disabled character shoved into a trope, something that reduces the complexity of the person or has them there to inform someone else’s journey.”
In fact, “Run” is a tense, non-stop ride that centers on Allen’s character, Chloe, a young woman who has spent most of her life ill. Chloe hopes to leave home for college, which would also mean leaving behind her protective mother, Diane (Paulson). As the film unravels, the audience is given reason to wonder if Diane truly has her daughter’s best interests at heart.
Allen grew up in New York and had always been around theater, as her mother is a writer. “I was in rehearsals with people from a young age,” she notes. “But it wasn’t until second or third grade I realized, ‘Oh, this is something you could do for a job. Well, that’s what I want to do!’” Currently studying creative writing at Columbia University, Allen made her professional acting debut in the 2017 off-Broadway play “Girl #2” by Bekah Brunstetter.
In addition to needing a talented young actor who could hold their own opposite Paulson, Chaganty was committed to casting a disabled actor for the role. Allen, who has used a wheelchair for six years, was submitted by her manager for the role and sent in a self-tape. A Skype meeting followed, and then she was sent the full script. Her reaction was instantaneous. “After I read it, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to do this!’” Allen recalls. “I was so, so invested, I thought, if I don’t get the job, I don’t get to play this role, that will break my heart.”
She recalls being taken by how the role had so many colors and emotions. “She’s smart, but she’s also cool, and she’s really sweet, but she’s also really tough,” Allen raves. “The script gives her the opportunity to be a full person and have this incredibly rich and transformative journey.” She sent the filmmakers an email saying “Whatever happens with the casting, I’m so excited to see this movie, because this is one of the best representations of a disabled character I’ve ever seen.”
Soon, Allen found out who she’d be playing opposite. “I remember on Wednesday I was watching ‘American Horror Story’ and on Thursday I got a text saying Sarah had been cast and they wanted me to fly out and read with her on Sunday,” Allen recalls. “I was terribly nervous and intimidated, but she put me right at ease and believed in me.” Allen says that even though she’d never done a film, she felt the full support of the crew behind her. “It all still seems impossible,” she says with a laugh. “For my first movie, I got to work opposite one of the best there is; it’s too good to be true.”
“Run” was shot in Winnipeg in 2018, and Allen confesses she spent a lot of time studying her co-star. “Just watching her work was the greatest lesson,” she says. One day, when Paulson was supposed to film an emotional breakdown, Allen asked her if she would mind if she came to set to observe. “So I showed up and I was expecting to see some process, to watch how she does it and learn from it. Like, does she do exercises to get into character?” Allen recalls. “And what happened was, they called action, and she just did it! It was stunning to watch, but her process was completely opaque to me. She was just flawless and immediate.”
Allen had left school to shoot the film, and says she really didn’t tell many people where she was going. “I remember texting some people and saying I was leaving for a work opportunity because I thought it would be strange to say, ‘Hi, I’m going to be in a movie with Sarah Paulson,’” Allen laughs. But with the film hitting Hulu this Friday, her secret seems to be out.
Now, Allen is back at school, but also managing interviews and her first movie premiere, which was held on Monday. “I’m just trying to stay present and appreciate this time,” she says. “Because even though it’s been a two-year journey, it’s all a whirlwind and it has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.” Allen says she’s interested in writing material for herself and looking forward to more roles coming her way. “You never know what the future will look like,” she notes. “ So I’m just trying to be open to whatever comes my way.”
“Run” premieres on Hulu Nov. 20.